Green Technology
Green Home Builders Embrace Home Control
Designers now see energy efficiency benefits of home automation.
September 09, 2010 by Steven Castle

We’re seeing it more and more: Designers of green homes are embracing home technologies like home control and automation systems. That’s because they realize that adding energy management through home control can effectively cut a family’s energy use as they go through their daily routines. These systems add to a green home’s energy efficiency, and including them in the design is not just a really good idea—it’s a really green idea.

Margarido House

Take green home builder Mike McDonald, whose Margarido House in California we have featured. McDonald’s home is a triumph of green building practices, green furnishings, and a “passive” design that positions the house to allow the sun to warm it and breezes to cool it. It requires no air conditioning. But McDonald didn’t stop there, and included a home control and automation solution that helps his family to save even more energy—while enhancing their convenience.

The most important thing when it comes to saving energy is having people change their behavior

“The stance I take is that the passive stuff makes a big difference with the design. The technology can make it more convenient to be green, and if it’s more convenient, it will be used more,” he says. “I can access my lighting system from my bedroom and hit a button that says ‘all off.’ And I’m saving more by making it easy.”

The home control system even enhances the energy efficiency of the house’s passive design. “When there is a lot of natural light [coming into a room], the technology kicks in with the motorized shades,” which are automated to roll down when the sun gets too strong during the day. This helps keep some rooms cooler and is one reason the home does not require expensive and energy-intensive air conditioning.

Credit: Mariko Reed

Charity Works GreenHouse

In another home we’re featuring in our upcoming October “Energy Management” issue, Electronic House editor Lisa Montgomery reports on this carbon-neutral show home in McLean, Va., which uses solar panels, solar hot water, geothermal heating and cooling, structural insulated panels (SIPs), recycled building materials, low-flow water fixtures, a rainwater harvesting system and all sorts of green building goodies.

Yet according to the builder, GreenSpur president Mark Turner, it’s the home’s automation system that may have the biggest impact, Montgomery writes. “The most important thing when it comes to saving energy is having people change their behavior,” Turner says. “It’s more critical, even, than having solar panels.”

AMX NetLinx and Lutron HomeWorks control systems allows the family to see how much energy they’re using and make adjustments, helping to cut their household’s energy bills from $700 to $73 one month.


We also recently reported on Virginia Tech’s Lumenhaus, a concept home which has won Solar Decathlon awards nationally and internationally. It features way cool stuff like automated and motorized walls that open and close to help heat and cool a home.

That wouldn’t be possible without a home control system. “The thought behind the Lumenhaus design was to build a sustainable smart house with the ability to maintain optimal energy performance at all times. So when the weather is good the house automatically opens up and doesn’t use energy,” says professor Joseph Wheeler, the project coordinator at Virginia Tech, in an article in Design News

Adds Design News:

Automation provides a way to intelligently control the environment in the house. But Wheeler says the reaction from the public to automation is often that “I don’t want my house to be complicated.” He says he tells them, “look at your automobile or an airplane. Everything else in life has embedded electronics in it so why are we afraid for housing to move forward.”

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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